Early Maya Ritual Practices and Craft Production: Late Middle Preclassic Ritual Deposits Containing Obsidian Artifacts at Ceibal, Guatemala

Kazuo Aoyama, Takeshi Inomata, Daniela Triadan, Flory Pinzón, Juan Manuel Palomo, Jessica MacLellan, Ashley Sharpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


This article examines Preclassic Maya ritual practices and craft production by means of a study of ritual deposits containing obsidian artifacts dated mostly to the late Middle Preclassic period (700–350 b.c.) at Ceibal, Guatemala. New ritual practices developed at Ceibal during this period, possibly through political interactions and negotiation involving emerging elites and other diverse community members. Common objects in ritual deposits in the public plaza shifted from greenstone celt caches to other artifacts, including those made of obsidian. The inhabitants of Ceibal engaged in various kinds of craft production, including the manufacture of obsidian prismatic blades. They also conducted public rituals in the Central Plaza, depositing exhausted polyhedral obsidian cores and other artifacts with symbolic significance in caches and as offerings in incipient elite burials and interments of sacrificed individuals. These cores clearly demonstrate the use of a sophisticated blade technology. Like greenstone objects, exhausted polyhedral obsidian cores deposited in cruciform arrangements along the east–west axis of the central E-Group plaza were used as symbols and markers of the center and four cardinal directions within the Maya cosmos. Public rituals were important for creating collective identities and for processes of political negotiation within the community. Emerging elites likely came to play an increasingly important role in public rituals as principal performers and organizers, setting the stage for later public events centered on rulers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Field Archaeology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Aug 22 2017



  • Ceibal
  • craft production
  • obsidian
  • Preclassic Maya
  • Ritual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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